Deck Name: The Wise Dog Tarot
Creator: MJ Cullinane
Publisher & Year: MJ Cullinane, ©2019
The images are dogs of all ages, breeds, sizes, coat colors + textures. Some are pampered show dogs, some are well-loved family members, and others appear recently liberated from an animal shelter. No matter the situational circumstances of these dogs, their personalities all shine through soulfully. And, they all speak a language that resonates in the heart. This deck is playful and deep; loving and yet capable of its own sovereignty. Just as one does not own a dog, but is lucky enough to care for them and live together as companions, so it is with the Wise Dog Tarot.
This deck comes in an extremely sturdy, well made box with all of the outside walls wrapped in glossy images from the cards. Featured on the front of the box lid is the image from the Death card — a white terrier nuzzling a butterfly, standing on a decorated skeleton with wings, and surrounded by white calla lilies. The box itself consists of 2 halves, the top lid lifts off and completely detaches. The halves fit together snugly; although my standard recommendation applies: for carrying this deck, use a deck bag to ensure that it doesn’t get ruined during travel.
The accompanying booklet is the same size as the tarot cards themselves. And, while it appears to be in the vein of the traditional little white booklet, there are some unique features to be found within its pages. The creator has written interesting and concise entries to describe and articulate the messages of the cards. For example in the Sun card entry the message includes this line: “The Sun is a gift that exposes obstacles for what they are and shows you the path to overcoming them” (Cullinane, 8). The last page of the accompanying booklet contains a key for the various recurring symbolic elements like: birds, the heart, poppies, and a pineapple — of all things.
Must. Love. Dogs. Their pawprints are all over this deck. From small and scruffy to large and long-coated, wire-haired to curly; not to mention snouts of all shapes and sizes. I want to pet them all. Working with this deck is like a visit to the dog park: you never know what sort of furry friends you’ll meet, but if you approach with an open heart, even the most reluctant pup will eventually come up and greet you. My advice is to take the time to sniff each other out. Remain calm no matter what cards you pull. Put aside any preconceived notions about both tarot + certain dog breeds. Let their eyes speak. Of all the tarot decks I have ever worked with — these dogs have the most expressive eyes of any character archetypes.
The images are digitally altered collages with layers of visuals. The dogs in the images appear to be originally from photos re-worked and rendered in surrealist digital landscapes. Butterflies, a variety of flowers, and trees are among the recurring images that weave throughout the suits as a connecting thread. As well as a dozen other symbolic elements articulated at the back of the guidebook. The card backs feature a regal and wise-looking dog that appears to be a German Pointer. It is surrounded by rays of light and roses blooming — sitting on a background of distressed white lace. It is rustic and comforting. Like the dog is looking out for you; it’s got your back.
Speaking of patterns, the deck makes excellent visual use of patterning as a technique to move the eye around the composition of each card. Some areas are smooth, while other areas are emphasized with the texture of patterns. It gives the whole thing a lot of movement and dynamism; and although there are no wagging tails in the cards, the feeling of wiggly butts and wagging tails is very present. There is calmness,too, in the form of naps, tongues out, and squinty smiles.
I want to point out two particular cards that have reshaped tarot lore for me in this deck. Both cards are traditionally “sticky” and somewhat tricky cards to work with: the Tower and the 5 of Pentacles. Let’s look at the Tower first.
In the Tower card, the German Shepard looks like it’s leaping to safety — not plummeting chaotically. It’s the first time I’ve been able to read the figure leaving the Tower as actually moving to a place of refuge — choosing when + where to land after escaping destruction. The presence of the white dove and the blanket of snow surrounding the burning building, the creekbed alive with plants and animal activity suggest a controlled burn — something necessary. Which is the first time I’ve been able to see this so readily…it’s a teaching I’ve heard about this card for years, but it really came alive for me in this deck.
Secondly, there is a deep lesson here in the 5 of Pentacles. There are two dogs, I can’t identify the breeds, but the one on the right appears to be a Spitz breed of some sort. They are walking in the snow at night, tongues out — like they’ve exerted themselves through the snow banks, and there are a few red flowers sprouting through the snow on the ground in front of them. Behind them is an animal shelter, and a white dove soaring away from it. The animal shelter is lit up and looks like a sanctuary — but the dogs are leaving it. I am reading this card in an entirely different way than how I typically interact with the 5 of Pentacles. These dogs choose to face whatever is out in the cold rather than be confined to the Animal Shelter. They refuse to trade their freedom and self-reliance for the cage of the shelter — even if it can provide respite. It’s like they sense a trap, and would rather face the elements and persevere, than to give in and go back in the direction of the cage. I’ve NEVER seen the 5 of Pentacles like that…I tend to read it more as a longing for material comfort. But, with Wise Dog Tarot, I can see that we are learning to trust ourselves and face the darkness, we are willing to experience lack of things in order to be free.
74 dogs are named and personally thanked by the author on the first page of the guidebook. In her closing remarks on the creation of the deck, the author writes, “Thank you for helping me create this tribute to the beautiful creatures that share our homes, our hearts, and sometimes — take over our beds” (Cullinane, 20).
I would like to send a personal thank you and some scratches to my beloved pups, Kirby (black and tan Shiba Inu) and Yoshi (sable coated Sheltie), who posed so well for these pictures with the Wise Dog Tarot. They were compensated with much praise and plenty of treats.
I’ve got airplane ears and can’t stop wagging my tail over this one; it’s simply a delightful deck to read with. While an understanding of breed characteristics certainly enhances the depth + relevance of the cards, at least initially, it is the included symbolic imagery that carries the whole thing. No bones about it, this is a RWS variant — but these cards will invite you to play fetch at an entirely different dog park. This affordable ($27) and highly collectable deck is currently (as of November 2019) available for pre-order on the creator’s website.